France weighs medicine sales at supermarkets

Joshua Melvin
Joshua Melvin - [email protected]
France weighs medicine sales at supermarkets
Could medicine soon be available in supermarkets in France? Photo: Charly Triballeau/AFP

France’s top financial watchdog says it’s time to end the monopoly pharmacies have on selling over-the-counter medicines like paracetamol as well as cold and flu remedies. The watchdog believes introducing competition will bring down prices.


Anyone who has spent an evening struggling to find an open pharmacy in France in search of a packet of doliprane (paracetamol pain reliever) will appreciate a new proposal from France’s top fiscal watchdog.

The Inspection Générale de Finances (IGF) says the market should be opened up for medicines that don’t require a prescription and those which aren’t subject to reimbursement by the government healthcare plan, according to a report leaked to French financial paper Les Echos.

The reason being pharmacies have are the only entities allowed to sell medicines in France and it's hurting consumers.

Doliprane and intestinal disorder remedy Spasfon as well as ibuprofen pain reliever Neurofen and cold medicines like Humex and Fervex are among the drugs targeted by IGF. At present these medicines makes up for nine percent of pharmacies' total sales.

And at the same time the prices the public has been paying for the medicines, some of which are not reimboursed by the government, has jumped two times faster than the pace of inflation. The increases amount to a three percent jump in drug prices each year from 1998-2011.

According to IGF, pharmacies have pushed up the prices on certain over-the-counter medicines in order to make up for the prices of certain medicines the government has kept artificially low.

The result is that a box of aspirin can cost anywhere from €1.30 - €4.95 depending on which pharmacy you shop at. By opening the market up to competition from supermarkets, for example, IGF believes prices could be driven consistently lower across the range of medicines available over the counter.  

The revelation about pharmacy pricing is just a recommendation and its nowhere near becoming law in France. 

 But it is the latest in a series of leaked reports from IGF on how the government could help consumers save money by changing how it deals with regulated professions like legal workers and pharmacists.  And they've caused quite a stir in the French media. 

IGF has named 37 professions such as notaries, the makers of dental prostheses, lawyers, driving instructors and several legal professions in which people are making more money than any other economic sector while at the same time sending out hefty bills.  

If the finance ministry decides to act on the report, it could mean good news for consumers in France.

“We don’t want to prevent them from making a living. But they must understand that in a moment when everyone is making an effort, they can make one too,” Secretary of State for Government Reform Thierry Mandon told i-Télé news. “Several options are possible, particularly the reintroduction of a bit of competition because competition lowers prices."

Topping the black list were “greffiers” in commercial courts, who are similar to recorders or clerks. "Greffiers" made €44 in profit out of every €100 their clients paid them. That means their average net pay per month is around €10,000, Les Echos claimed.


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